Unlike his usual rhetoric about what to do in a crisis, Stephen Harper is "cutting and running". Good riddance. What I'm hearing from Calgary is that Conservatives - even some Reform-types are done with him. Harper must resign, and he'll be forced to within the next 6 months...
Now, we Liberals need to decide our next steps. I think the spectre of a coalition does haunt the Conservatives. They know it can take down the government any time this government loses the confidence of the nation. For 2 years of rather wimpy standing down, the Conservatives got used to that "old face" of Liberal strategy. Now they cannot take anything for-granted. This means they will be looking for any way to seize back the momentum. Momentum has been lost for the Cons - no matter what the polls say. When the Globe and Mail is asking for his resignation, when the CBC questioned all his speech statements, and when Bob Fife himself indicated the "Liberals should declare their victory" on the National News, you know Conservatives are worried.
How will the Conservatives try to "seize the day", and seize control? Quite obviously to win a majority after making Mr. Dion continue to look bad. They will do what they can to force an election BEFORE a Liberal Leadership contest. They will make a stink about Dion before then, and try to make the party sink with him. This was probably always their strategy (at least Harper's).
What can Liberals do? Some are suggesting choose one of the "Three", and let them lead, implying Bob Rae, and Dominic LeBlanc should step aside. NO, NO, NO! Such a move will be lambasted by the other parties as "undemocratic". Angry Liberals will say the same, and we'll be a "party divided" as colored by the media.
So, what do we do? There are "two fronts" here: Leadership, and the "coalition". We need to continue talking with the other parties. Like I posted a few days ago, the coalition needs to be actively and publicly showing that these two parties have ideas for Canada. I refer to "the coalition", since, now, anytime the two meet it will be dubbed a meeting of the coalition, whether it is or not. We won't have "paid" advertising, but the ONLY thing we can do to get the media attention is to meet to discuss what's good for Canada. Do it in different cities. Have PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS. I was part of this type of process when Mr. Martin and Chretien wanted more public input on the economy in the early 90s. It works. It engages the public and gets the media involved. Instead of slapping the public in the face with Christmas ads (competing with Boxing Day sales, and "going out of business" sales - which of course will make the government look bad - imagine a Harper ad, followed by a "liquidation sale" ad), public involvement in meetings is huge. Get the public talking to us. Let them give us shit, or let them praise us. Maybe hold off during the week of Christmas, but before and after that, do it "full tilt".
The public consultations would be a great way to build Liberal membership, as well as get people involved in the leadership race. Imagine some Joe/Jane Public walks into the Winnipeg meeting, and says, "here's what is important to me". He/she would get answers to what ails their pocketbook, as well as where the country needs to go from here. Here we will be able to share ideas on job creation, infrastructure projects, social assistance, worker's job security, and good governance.
We would need to ensure that meeting topics are common from city to city, but to include perhaps 25% "local interest" topics which would help with the "we're here for you" part of it.
If people are against the coalition, this would provide us a legit "out", by indicating that we worked hard (didn't take a holiday) to put together ideas to share with Parliament, AND we got public feedback (which we respect) which indicated "move on". If, on the other hand, the coalition builds momentum, we can also carry that into Parliament to our benefit - and the Conservatives' loss. As some have said on these LiBlogs: "Coalition if necessary, but not necessarily coalition".
Mr. Harper will choose to speak AT the public... To force his message down at them, with glossy ads. We can choose to speak WITH the public in open forums, inviting them to share their fears and hopes with us. I see this as our only way to victory, right now. Sure, we can declare "victory" after holding Harper's feet to the proverbial fire. Sure we can claim we made the government change their policy. But... (and it's a BIG "but"), we all know that a man like Harper will just fish out the same old policies again and again.
Some say we need a leader BEFORE Parliament reconvenes, if we can pull it off. How? How, indeed. Our convention is set for May. There are a few options:
1) Move the convention up a few months... (very tough to do).
2) Count membership sales as the tally, and interpret the results for a leader (may not be fair, as some have "head starts" on this).
3) Finally (on my list), and the option I prefer: A grassroots campaign to urge the party to select a leader in caucus. This has been done before, and can be done now - BUT - it has to be shown that Liberals back this. Launch a Facebook Group and urge all Liberals to join, for the survival of the party: A group imploring our party elected caucus and leadership to select a leader on behalf of the party.
There is another option, but it appears the public is VERY against it: maintain a coalition under the leadership of Stephane Dion. This, in my opinion, would start us out 3 steps back of everyone. We don't have time to build up his image (or change it). If he becomes "the accidental Prime Minister" in the meantime, so be it, but we need to show the public we hear them. We either get a new leader established very soon, or put another "interim" leader in place after we allow Mr. Dion to stay in there while any "coalition backlash" is absorbed.
Regardless of the direction we take this party, the parties of the "coalition" need to reach out to the public the only way they can (broke as we are), which is the consultation process. It will have the effect of showing we're still working hard - not just disturbing shit, then running home to our ridings to enjoy a holiday and lick our wounds. It will show that we have REAL ideas for Canadians. Some will say this may help air any strong disagreements between coalition partners. In an open public forum, I say let it. If the NDP snaps over something we like, we have an easy "out". If, on the other hand, the partners have a positive discussion about the growth of this country, then we're all winners. The key is we're listening to the public - not talking at them. There won't be much opportunity for disagreement.
Public consultations... it's the only "cost free" (or lower cost) option we have, to get the opposition views across. In doing so, not only do we HEAR THE PEOPLE, but we also show that we are continuing the work of the nation - even IF WE'RE LOCKED OUT OF PARLIAMENT.
Whether a coalition remains after this, or not, doesn't matter. Both parties will look good in the offing.